MAY 30, 1960
As a precocious teenager growing up in Cottage Grove, Ore., in 1954, Dyrol Burleson set three goals: run a sub-four-minute mile as Roger Bannister had in making history earlier that year, appear on the cover of a fledgling sports weekly and work as a park ranger. "When I saw Roger Bannister on the cover of SI as [the first] Sportsman of the Year, I knew that's what I wanted to do," Burleson says. "The mile was really something back then."
Within 12 years Burleson reached all three objectives, and now, at 62, he's happily retired. When not tending to three sheep and two llamas on his five acres in Turner, Ore., an hour from the Cascade Mountain Range, Burleson exercises, dabbles in the stock market and travels with his wife of eight years, Deberra.
Burleson was a 20-year-old sophomore at Oregon when, on April 23, 1960, he became the second American to break the four-minute barrier, running a 3:58.6 that beat Don Bowden's U.S. record by one tenth of a second. Five weeks later he shared the SI cover with Australian world-record holder Herb Elliott in advance of a race in which they were to meet for the first time. (However, a heel injury the day of the race prevented Elliott from competing.) Burleson went on to an undefeated collegiate career, helping the Ducks win the '62 NCAA outdoor championship, and ran the 1,500 meters in the '60 Rome and '64 Tokyo Olympics, finishing sixth and fifth, respectively. A pulled calf muscle before the '68 U.S. trials cost him a shot at going to the Mexico City Olympics that year. He would finish his career with more than a dozen sub-four-minute miles and share the SI cover one more time (the Tokyo Games preview issue) before running his last competitive race, in '69.
All the while Burleson was earning a master's in parks administration and, in 1966, beginning his career as an administrator for the Linn County, Ore., regional park system. His fascination with the parks service began when he saw his first ranger during a childhood trip to Redwood National Park in California. "I couldn't believe somebody could make a living doing that," he says. "Because there was no money in running, I knew I was going to have a parks career. But instead of a uniform and a horse, I had a tie and a desk."
After 31 years with the Linn County system, Burleson retired in 1997. But he has no plans to give up running, though knee surgery in '95 forced him to scale back from 50 miles a week to about 30—and at a pace that he likens to a jog. "I don't call what I do now running. That's when you're doing somewhere around six minutes a mile," says Burleson, who has two grown daughters from his first marriage, which ended in divorce after 17 years. "But I never ran for time; I always ran to win."